Stock Tips: Week 1
By now, you’ve probably heard the rumor . . . college football season is underway.
Every Monday during the 2013 season, we’ll deliver for you five stock tips, observations from the weekend’s games, all focusing on NFL prospects and what they may have done to make NFL scouts take notice.
In this world of social media-driven overreaction, the tendency is to think that a single game will launch someone into the first round or drive him completely out of the draft. That’s not how the NFL reacts, and it shouldn’t be how fans react, either. Stocks trend up or down; no one performance is definitive. Scouting is like dating; you may get swept off your feet at first glance, but only time can determine who’s a keeper.
Each game is an opportunity for impressions, a chance for talent evaluators to collect data, the accumulation of which will ultimately dictate a prospect’s place on a team’s draft board. We’ll be peppering your Mondays with these observations from games watched – not from stat sheets or highlights packages or film study. If I don’t see it, I don’t say it.
File these notes away over the course of the season, then revisit them as you break down video and watch their performances in the Combine and pro days. See how much they help shape your fully informed opinion of a prospect.
1. Quit clowning around.
I begin by begging your forgiveness. I promise that will be the last time I use such a pedestrian pun in reference to Jadeveon Clowney (I’ll blame the heat and humidity, even though I’m sitting far closer to Columbia University than Columbia, S.C.).
Seriously, though, I was struck that Clowney felt the need to pull out some double moves to try to beat his blockers in the season opener. He looked more like a guard on the perimeter, trying to break down his man and penetrate the lane than someone trying to rush the passer. It was uncharacteristically showy, and, I think, entirely unnecessary.
His first step is incomparable. His bull rush is otherworldly. And he crosses the face of his blockers with such ease, it’s as if that tactical move most pass rushers never quite learn were completely natural to him.
I would never question (certainly not to his face) whether or not he was affected by a lingering stomach bug. I would not at all doubt that the humidity affected his energy. And, yes, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn he may have been less diligent than ideal in his conditioning work in the offseason. All have been widely speculated as factors in Clowney’s less-than-freakish season debut.
Still, all that extra energy expended using moves was wasteful, especially under the circumstances. Clowney’s impact on the game is obvious, even if his stats are not. Scouts will see that, even the stuff that doesn’t show up on a highlight reel.
2. Urban Meyer will learn Khalil Mack’s name.
As he was coming off the field at halftime, Meyer admitted in his interview on ESPN that Ohio State had its hands full with No. 46, the outside linebacker. Whether he knew Mack’s name at the time or not, he and the rest of the football world will know it soon enough. Mack had a day that, for him, was fairly typical – 9 tackles, 2.5 sacks, plus an interception he returned for a 45-yard touchdown. But there were two other plays in the first quarter that stood out to me.
On one, he bull rushed the Buckeyes' 6-foot-6, 308-pound senior left tackle Jack Mewhort. Mack extended his arms into Mewhort, exploding into him and driving the big guy back on his heels. It’s doubtful Mewhort will get pushed around like that by anyone in the Big Ten this entire season. On the other play, Mack penetrated and met Braxton Miller at the pitch point, forcing the explosive dual-threat quarterback to give up the ball. It won’t count as a tackle or a hurry or in any other quantifiable category. But he got to the right spot at the right time against a ballcarrier who takes full advantage of defenders who are out of position.
Mack has one more big-stage opportunity next week when Buffalo travels to Baylor. A second-straight statement game against a BCS opponent – and another Heisman hopeful in Bears running back Lache Seastrunk – will cement Mack’s status as one of the elite playmakers among the outside backer prospects.
3. I hope Robert Griffin III was watching.
Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller is a Heisman candidate, yes, but the NFL hardly cares about accessories. They’re only interested in abilities, and coming into his third season as a starter, Miller had yet to show that his grasp of the quarterback position matched his NFL arm.
In the first half against Buffalo, Miller no longer looked like a quarterback who wanted to tuck the ball and run at the first sign of trouble. Instead, he was looking to throw the ball, and he completed a nice variety of passes on his first five attempts (one screen to the left, one to the right, a second level completion over the middle, one touchdown throw to the sidelines while running to his left, and a 47-yard TD bomb from the pocket). His increased comfort level as a passer was noticeable.
The second half was a different story. Miller ran the ball 13 times (he had four rush attempts in the first half), both by design and out of necessity.
Still, the overall impression of Miller was that of a quarterback trying to be a passer first, runner second. The more he develops as a pass-first thinker, the better the NFL will like him – whether it’s in the 2014 draft or not until 2015.
4. Can one play help Sammy Watkins put 2012 behind him?
So far, so good.
Everything you need to know about Watkins can be found in his 77-yard touchdown reception. Watkins ran a 12-yard in from the right side on first down. He had to reach back to grab the ball from Tajh Boyd that was delivered a step behind him. Instead of his momentum carrying him across the field, he was forced to stop, turn and head upfield, which he did effortlessly. Five yards later, he lowered his shoulder, drilled a Georgia defender to the ground, then took off with three more Bulldogs in pursuit. He angled toward the sideline, staying just ahead of the defense. He stepped away from one diving defender inside the 5 and dragged another Dawg into the end zone.
It was a highlight reel play, but it was also a full resume compressed into 15 seconds. On that one play, Watkins showed the hands, body control, physicality and speed that make him one of the top two wide receiver prospects available for the 2014 draft.
At 6-1, 205, he’s slightly bigger than USC’s Marqise Lee, neither of whom have the height to project as true X receivers at the next level. But they can be explosive options at the Z receiver (like Watkins’ former teammate DeAndre Hopkins, a first-round pick of the Texans who was on the Memorial Stadium sidelines Saturday night) or out of the slot.
Watkins finished the night with six catches and 127 yards, plus a couple of end-around rushes that went nowhere. But that one play was enough for any scout to see what Watkins brings to the table. A breakout season like he had in 2011 could land Watkins in the top 10 of next year’s draft.
5. Can anything help Logan Thomas put 2012 behind him?
In a way, yes.
Thomas considered coming out after the 2011 season, when he threw for 3,000-plus yards, rushed for nearly 500 more and accounted for 30 touchdowns. His choice to return to Virginia Tech was applauded in Blacksburg, but 2012 didn’t turn out the way anyone expected. He broke his own school record for total offense (3,500 yards) and was the Hokies’ leading rusher. But his touchdown passes were down, his interceptions up, and his completion percentage dropped to 52 percent. Every pass turned into a 50-50 proposition.
Again, Thomas considered the draft, and again he returned to school – this time because he was told he’d project as a third round pick.
A glass-half-full person would say that Thomas, after his season opener against Alabama, can forget all about his 2012 struggles. A realist would acknowledge it's because he has far worse things to think about.
Against the Tide, Thomas was atrocious. Forget 50 percent – Thomas would’ve been happy completing 25 percent of his passes. He put up as bad a stat line as I can remember: 5-for-26 for 59 yards. And he rushed for all of another two yards. He was sacked once, intercepted once and looked absolutely lost at times.
At one point, he went eight straight passes without a completion, then had two stretches of six straight incompletions. He didn’t connect on a single attempt in the fourth quarter. I saw him overthrow receivers, underthrow receivers and flat-out miss them entirely.
To be fair (or maybe kind), Thomas’ implosion was not entirely about him. His top three receivers came into the game with 59 career catches between them. His starting tight end had 12 offensive snaps under his belt. And his two tackles were first-time starters.
Still, anyone wondering about Thomas’ professional prospects would have wanted to see him hold his inexperienced teammates together in the face of an Alabama defense with six or seven draft picks on the field. That didn't come close to happening.
At the end of the day, Thomas showed composure amidst all those incompletions (that’s gotta count for something, right?). He didn’t chew out anyone over catchable balls that were dropped, didn’t blame Virginia Tech’s special teams for allowing two touchdown returns.
The good news is that he’ll face Western Carolina next Saturday; the Catamounts gave up 45 points in a season-opening loss to Middle Tennessee. The even better news is that no one will be asking Thomas about 2012 anymore. If there’s a bottom to Thomas’ freefall, Saturday had to be it.